Film

Tracking Shots: This Week in Film

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The Village Voice reviews most movies opening in New York. Here are some you may have missed.

Birthright: A War Story
Directed by Civia Tamarkin
Abramorama
Opens July 14, Village East Cinema

For the better part of a half-century, Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision striking down abortion restrictions in the first trimester of pregnancy and limiting them in the second and third, has helped make safe a procedure that previously had been secretive and dangerous. As Birthright demonstrates, though, a burgeoning patchwork of state controls on reproductive care increasingly subjects women and healthcare providers to intrusive questions, forced conversations, and burdensome requirements. Worse, some of the new laws criminalize behavior by pregnant women, whether they’re contemplating abortion or childbirth. The doc is thorough. Abortion foes and pro-choice activists alike tell how such laws got through: decades-long strategies leveraging prenatal imaging advancements and borrowing the language and tactics of human-rights campaigns. The relative flat-footedness of women’s-rights activists, who believed Roe had mostly ended the discussion, left the anti-abortion movement an opening. The film’s real strength, however, is revealed a bit late, in a series of stark portraits of women who have faced prosecution as they sought to take care of themselves. Abortion is likely to remain accessible, safe, and even easy for women with means, but lower-income women of all ethnicities and political persuasions, especially in certain states, already are getting caught up in a draconian atmosphere surrounding reproductive medical care of all kinds. Hospitals test their blood without their permission, police show up at their doctors’ offices, and, in addition to the usual American question of how to pay for their care, they become outlaws in need of lawyers. Daphne Howland

 

False Confessions
Directed by Luc Bondy
Big World Pictures
Opens July 14, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Angelika Film Center

As we were reminded last fall — the high season of Isabelle Huppert, whose triumphs Elle and Things to Come were released within weeks of each other — the tiny titan can transform the most seemingly banal activity into an event. In Luc Bondy’s largely inert False Confessions, the tedium is broken by the actress’s outfits, and by the way she moves in them. Bondy, a theater and opera director who died in late 2015, filmed part of his adaptation of Pierre de Marivaux’s 1737 comedy of deception and dissembling at the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris during daylight hours; at night, Huppert and her castmates in the film performed the same roles onstage at the Odéon. Despite the diurnal setting, several scenes are distractingly overlit, the actors enhaloed by a honey glaze. Serving as its own source of luminescence is the loose white satin ensemble that Huppert’s character, Araminte, a moneyed widow, is wearing when we first see her, practicing tai chi with an instructor on a balcony. She may be doing the meditative exercises to prepare for what comes next: a series of byzantine machinations set in motion by Dorante (Louis Garrel), newly employed by Araminte as her accountant and long in love with her — feelings that he wants to keep concealed. Some of Bondy’s troupe members, bluffing and posturing and whispering asides as the material demands, are more aware than others that they need play only for the camera and not to the back of the house. All are upstaged by the gold-lamé tracksuit Araminte rocks while doing light cardio on a treadmill. Melissa Anderson

 

Footnotes
Directed by Paul Calori and Kostia Testut
Monument Releasing
Opens July 14, Village East Cinema

French musical Footnotes, the directorial debut feature of Paul Calori and Kostia Testut, draws from the works of Jacques Demy and Stanley Donen, something that would have been apparent even if you didn’t know the directors name-check them as influences. It’s a sometimes impressive effort, but the homage often suggests a photocopy of a photocopy; the skeleton of the inspirational source remains, but the details are obscured. What remains lacks a certain brilliance — literally, given an aesthetic that employs a much blander palette than the Technicolor films of Demy and Donen. To its credit, this is a musical that stays fairly grounded. Pauline Étienne stars as Julie, a down-on-her-luck young woman who finds work at Jacques Couture, a luxury shoe company, only to find out that management is planning on laying off its staff in favor of cheaper labor. Julie must decide whether to join her female co-workers and go on strike (perhaps losing her job), or keep her head down. Though it’s not without charming moments, this story of women standing up to the big bad guys is diminished by unimpressive song-and-dance numbers that feel like Michel Legrand throwaways. This also means that some of the film’s biggest plot points — such as the betrayal of Julie’s new love interest, the factory’s truck driver, Samy (Olivier Chantreau) — are resolved through shallow rhymes. La La Land got the conversation rolling about the return of the musical, but Footnotes will unfortunately remain, well, a footnote. Kristen Yoonsoo Kim

 

Blind
Directed by Michael Mailer
Vertical Entertainment
Opens July 14

Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin last starred together twenty years ago. When they were bankable movie stars, both actors added subversive elements to their conventional roles, Moore revealing the steel spine of underestimated women, Baldwin injecting hissing menace into stalwart men. There are shades of their powerful and ambitious 1990s characters in the paint-by-numbers indie film Blind, with Moore giving Suzanne Dutchman, the toned and taut wife of an indicted Wall Street shark (Dylan McDermott), some much needed resolve, and Baldwin lending his booming authority to Bill Oakland, an embittered novelist blinded in a car accident. In his first feature, director Michael Mailer effectively shows how easily even influential and accomplished people can become isolated, but there’s little in the screenplay, by John Buffalo Mailer, to indicate that either of these two has the capacity to change, even when ignited by unexpected passion. (There are hints of the filmmakers’ father, Norman Mailer, in Oakland’s prose and his aggressive intelligence.) An experienced indie producer, Michael Mailer makes excellent use of locations, using the Dutchmans’ Manhattan penthouse and Oakland’s Brooklyn brownstone as representations of their inner lives. The script alludes to what Suzanne sacrificed to be a supportive spouse and reveals how Bill’s guilt contributes to his churlishness. But it’s old-fashioned star power that makes these older and (getting) wiser characters credible. Moore’s and Baldwin’s forceful personalities power their performances, and these evenly matched partners have now invigorated both a convoluted thriller (The Juror) and a predictable romance (Blind). Serena Donadoni

 

I Am the Blues
Directed by Daniel Cross
Film Movement
Opens July 12, Quad Cinema

While I Am the Blues borrows its title from a 1970 Willie Dixon album, and features Chicago blues legend Bobby Rush as a de facto tour guide, this documentary focuses on less-famous blues performers, forgotten musicians who couldn’t stop performing the blues if they tried. Canadian filmmaker Daniel Cross travels to the small-town Deep South, where it seems every senior citizen this film encounters has a guitar and a hell of a lot of stories. Born in Louisiana, Rush goes all around the region, trading war stories and striking up impromptu jam sessions with such long-lost bluesmen as Jimmy “Duck” Holmes (proprietor of the Blue Front Café, the oldest surviving juke joint in Mississippi), Henry Gray, and the amusingly loudmouthed Lazy Lester. Ladies who sing the blues are also represented, as we get down-and-dirty performances/interviews from vocalist Carol Fran and singer/guitarist Barbara Lynn, who became a pop breakout in the Sixties with her hit “You’ll Lose a Good Thing.” Blues is mostly a spirited, rambling trip through the history of this American music, but that journey is under the cloud of a melancholy bleakness. Several of the performers spotlighted feel that the blues is a lost art that will most likely die along with them. (A couple did pass away either during or after filming.) Since this movie was wrapped a couple of years ago, buzzworthy young artists like Gary Clark Jr. and Leon Bridges don’t get mentioned for recently making sure blues is still alive and kicking. They could’ve provided an optimistic coda to a breezy but bittersweet doc which gives you the blues — in every sense of the word. Craig D. Lindsey

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